Israel will submit a $1-billion dollar plan for easing the Gaza Strip’s humanitarian crisis, which it will ask the international community to fund, at an emergency meeting on Wednesday of donor states.
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The plan’s centerpiece will be Israeli assistance in building infrastructure projects, including desalination plants, electricity lines and a gas pipeline, as well as upgrading the Erez industrial park on the Israeli-Gazan border. The plan would cost around $1 billion.
The emergency meeting in Brussels was called by Norwegian Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide, who currently chairs the forum of donor states, and the European Union’s foreign policy czar, Federica Mogherini. It was called in response to American threats to reduce aid to the Palestinians, the impasse in the Fatah-Hamas reconciliation process and the worsening humanitarian situation in Gaza.
Unusually, given the rupture in relations between the Palestinian Authority and the United States following the latter’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, both Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah and U.S. envoy to the peace process Jason Greenblatt will attend. Israel will be represented by Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi and the coordinator of government activities in the territories, Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai. Also attending will be the foreign ministers of Egypt, Jordan and Morocco and senior officials of several other countries.
Hanegbi, who is Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s representative at the conference, will present a series of projects Israel would like to see happen in Gaza. They include building a desalination plant, installing a new high-voltage line that would double the amount of electricity Israel supplies to Gaza, laying a natural gas pipeline from Israel to Gaza and building a sewage purification plant and a landfill. Israel is willing to provide technology and know-how for these projects, but not to finance them.
Israel will also offer to be more flexible about permitting dual-use materials, which can be used for both civilian and military purposes, into Gaza to facilitate construction.
Tuesday night, Hanegbi met with Mogherini and told her Israel wants the conference to succeed. He added that Israel is working in many ways to help Gaza’s residents, but said it’s time for the Palestinian leadership to also start considering ordinary Palestinians’ welfare and return to direct negotiations with Israel.
Senior defense officials have warned recently of a “complete” collapse of Gaza’s economy, and especially of its infrastructure. The number of trucks entering Gaza from Israel has fallen by about half over the past few months due to the decline in Gazans’ purchasing power, and is now down to around 300 to 400 trucks a day, according to data published in Haaretz earlier this month. Around 95 percent of Gaza’s water isn’t fit to drink, and every day, hundreds of thousands of cubic meters of sewage flow into the Mediterranean Sea, eventually reaching Israel’s coast.
The power supply in Gaza has increased recently, to six or seven hours of electricity per day, after the PA agreed to resume paying for some of the electricity supplied by Israel. But experts warn of possible outbreaks of infectious diseases. The general unemployment rate has reached 50 percent, with youth unemployment even higher.
Netanyahu told journalists earlier this month that he supports improving Gaza’s economy, but added, “The main problem is that Gaza itself doesn’t see to the basic infrastructure the population needs, like electricity, water and housing. This is our problem ... It’s absurd that Israel has to take care of the most basic necessities of life, which the Hamas government ignores.”
President Reuven Rivlin made similar statements recently. “We’re approaching the moment when Gaza’s infrastructure will collapse,” he said during a tour of the Gaza border earlier this month. “The entire world must know and understand that the ones preventing reconstruction are Hamas. Israel is the only party in the region that, under any conditions, supplies the residents’ minimal needs so that body and soul can survive. We won’t tolerate having the finger of blame pointed at us. We urge all the nations of the world, anyone who has the ability and the influence, to pressure Gaza’s rulings power, Hamas, to take responsibility for its actions and residents’ lives.”
Mordecai, the coordinator of government activities in the territories, also made similar remarks at a conference a few weeks ago. “The Gaza Strip is a failed region,” he said. “The problem is primarily Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, but Israel is greatly affected by it ... It’s possible to turn Gaza into a great economic opportunity,” he added. “It’s possible to invest there in infrastructure, gas exploration and make it hugely successful.
A failed economy in poorly governed regions can create terror and war, Mordechai noted, but “a stable economy can postpone them ... This is an additional element of the IDF’s security doctrine.”
In response to the plan, a statement was issued by Gisha, an organization monitoring the Gaza Strip. It called the plan "arbitrary" because "Israel is closely observing the situation in the Gaza Strip, approving and rejecting, primarily, the movement of any person that wishes to enter or leave. The need for a rescue plan could have saved no burden on any project with delays, prohibitions and conditions which are sometimes used and given for unknown reasons."